Benchwork has begun

The perfect is the enemy of the good enough. This is what I have to keep telling myself. Before I start any big project I always put it off, afraid to take that big plunge because it might be difficult, or I might screw it up, or I might get bored halfway through, or a meteorite might wipe out all of humanity next Tuesday and do I really want my final moments on Earth to be scratching my head over the plywood choices at Home Depot?

No. No I don’t. But I can’t put it off forever, meteorite or no meteorite. It’s time to get started.

Ready to get started. First I have to relocate the modeling bench.

Ready to get started!

We had our space cleared out, a track plan, some books, and some tools. My wife was going away last weekend so it was a perfect time for The Boy and I to start our project. He was pumped, I was pumped.

Despite my need to research everything to death ahead of time I’m actually very bad at planning things.  I don’t draw a plan, I don’t make a list, I don’t build prototypes. When I build things it’s more like sculpture. I figure out the thing I have to do, I do it, and then I figure out the next thing. Repeat. Sometimes rewind. Not the most efficient way to do something but I can’t get my brain to work any other way.

Friday night while I was waiting for The Boy’s drum lesson to let out I finally figured out just what I’d be building. There are several different ways to build a train bench but two of the more popular are Open Grid and L-Girder. Open grid, which is built like a ladder, a box with joists in between, seemed to make more sense given the shape of the bench, and it seemed a bit less complicated.  L-Girder benches have home-built girders whose cross sections look like an L, hence the name. The advantage is you have greater spans between legs than you would most other ways. L-Girder seemed like it would use less wood and, since I was trying to keep costs down, this seemed like the way to go.

Five minutes before the lesson ended I did some quick math to figure out how much and what type of lumber to get and we went straight from the lesson to Home Depot. We returned home with a decent pile of 2x4s (mostly for the wall I still needed to build), 1x3s, 2x2s, and 1x2s. Add to that some deck screws and we were good to go.

A pile of lumber for the benchwork.

A pile of wood.

The next morning we got up bright and early, had breakfast, and headed down to the basement, ready to start the project. First came the wall.

Well, actually, first came the outlet we had to relocate. Then came the wall.

Then came the rebuilding of half the wall after we realized I’d measured something wrong.

Then came the realization that we’d built the wall on the floor but couldn’t raise it up in place because there was duct work in the way.

It was now lunchtime and we had very little to show for our efforts. After lunch The Boy wanted to watch some TV since he’d decided he wasn’t really into the whole carpentry thing. I went down the basement and quickly re-built the wall, this time in place, like I should have done from the beginning. The wall was done. We could get started on the thing we were going to do in the first place.

The wall for the modeling bench.

The wall for the modeling bench.

Ok, kid, c’mon down and let’s start the bench. First we put up 2x2s along the wooden wall. Easy. He was into this part. Now we had to do the same along the concrete wall only with pressure treated 2x2s and Tapcons.

Tapcons are a brand name of screw that I’ve come to love. Each package comes with a drill bit. Along with a hammer drill, you drill a hole, screw the screws in, and they hold tight. I usually use them along with some construction adhesive to make sure whatever I hang is going to be permanent.

Oops. I didn’t have the right length of Tapcons. The ones I had on hand were for putting up 1x4s for some other project. I had to hang 2x2s and my Tapcons weren’t long enough. I’d have to go back to Home Depot later but for now I decided to just finish the first bench.

Building shelf brackets of this kind was new ground for me so we got off to a slow start but before we knew it we had four of them in a row.

He's pretty good with a cordless drill.

He’s pretty good with a cordless drill.

I took great pains to make sure they were level, both individually and in reference to each other. Of course, spending all that time leveling things isn’t exciting to a twelve year-old so by this time he’d remembered he had some homework to finish and he retreated upstairs. That’s fine, it’s not the type of thing we needed two people for and it was actually a bit faster to do it myself.

Four happy little brackets, all in a row.

Four happy little brackets, all in a row.

As happens, by five o’clock I had a lot less done than I expected to but I still called it a day. I had the first bench partially finished and expected to have the rest done the next day.

Sunday came and I headed off to Home Depot bright and early, sans child, and picked up the right Tapcons, some additional lumber, and four pieces of plywood for the bench tops and also to cover the stud wall I’d built the day before.

I finished the first bench and got to work putting the PT 2×2 studs against the concrete wall. Something about using a hammer drill to drill into a basement wall fills me with a sense of power. It’s nice to own a home!

Thor like hammer drill!

Thor like hammer drill! Photo by The Boy.


That blue screw is a Tapcon. Drill a hole, screw it in, and you can attach anything to a concrete wall.

Some Tapcons, some Liquid Nails, and the studs were quickly up. I then started the rest of the brackets using the same care to ensure everything was level.

No finer sight.

No finer sight.

I should mention that The Boy called some friends over and they spent the entire day building things in Minecraft instead of the basement, so I worked solo on Sunday. He assured me that he’d be more into it once we got to laying out the track and building scenery. We’ll see.

This would be an L-Girder, constructed from a 1x2 and a 1x3.

This would be an L-Girder, constructed from a 1×2 and a 1×3.

Other than building the L-Girders, which involved gluing, most of the project was simply measuring, cutting with the compound miter saw, drilling countersink holes and screwing wood to other wood. Very straightforward building.

One of my most-used tools.

One of my most-used tools. Also the tool that thus far has come closest to taking out my eye.

Building the peninsula was a bit time consuming as I had to measure everything to precisely fit against the shelf. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to re-do a couple of things.

For me, a day of building something in my basement fills me with more pride than an entire year at my job, and I actually like my job. By the end of Sunday I’d had all the benches done and I was pretty happy with the results. More joists had to be added and of course the plywood cut but that would all happen after we had the track on hand.

Mostly done.

Mostly done.


About Jim

Just a guy who likes to make stuff.
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